D-Day veterans have gathered on Second World War warship HMS Belfast today to mark the 70th anniversary of the historic Normandy Landings.
The ship, which is moored on the River Thames, will lead 70th anniversary D-Day commemorations with a formal ceremony for veterans, as well as a flypast over the capital. Words and photos: Press Association.
To commemorate the historic assault, veterans who served aboard HMS Belfast during D-Day were joined by fellow veterans from The Royal Hospital Chelsea and the Normandy Veterans Association for a formal ceremony on the ship's decks, followed by a C-75 Dakota flypast along the Thames on behalf of The Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
The ceremony came ahead of huge commemoration events planned for both the UK and France in June, including an international ceremony on one of the Normandy beaches, attended by veterans and dignitaries including the Queen, Prime Minister David Cameron, and US president Barack Obama.
One of the first ships to open fire during the Normandy landings, HMS Belfast is one of only three remaining vessels in the world to have taken part in the bombardment fleet.
Its director Phil Reed said:"We are honoured to be welcoming D-Day veterans to the decks of HMS Belfast, to begin the 70th Anniversary of D-Day commemorations, ahead of major events taking place in Portsmouth and Normandy at the beginning of June.
"We felt it was important to give those veterans who are unable to attend the commemorations in Normandy an opportunity to mark the event in London, and HMS Belfast, having served at D-Day, is the most appropriate location to host such an event."
Mayor of London Boris Johnson added: "In commemorating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy we have a timely opportunity to express our profound gratitude for the heroism and dedication of those involved in Operation Neptune, including those hardy souls aboard the HMS Belfast.
"While commending the veterans of the largest amphibious operation of the Second World War at this historic gathering, we also reflect on those who made the ultimate sacrifice and perished in the conflict."
The commemoration comes as Prince Harry yesterday paid a moving tribute to the veterans of the Second World War Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy, saying their efforts deserved recognition despite the battle, which claimed the lives of more than 50,000 Allied soldiers, being known as the "forgotten campaign".
HMS Belfast took part in the D-Day landings as the flagship of Bombardment Force 'E' of the Eastern Naval Task Force and provided gunfire support to British and Canadian troops landing on Gold and Juno beaches.
One of the very first ships to open fire on German positions at 5.27am on June 6 1944, she is one of only three remaining vessels in the world to have taken part in the bombardment fleet to support the Normandy Landings.
Before D-Day, she played a crucial role in protecting the Arctic Convoys until 1944 when she spent five weeks supporting the D-Day landings firing thousands of shells.
The invasion of Normandy was the last time she fired her guns during the Second World War, and afterwards HMS Belfast played an active role in the Korean War from 1950-1952 working with Allied Forces to support the retreating American and South Korean troops.
Her final years were spent performing peace-keeping duties until she was retired from service in 1963.
She is now a museum ship, permanently moored on the Thames, and operated by the Imperial War Museum.
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